Turning point

Former Senate President
Manny Villar


We are entering a decisive moment in our fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. The 7-day moving average of new cases has plummeted to 5,732 from a high of 20,915 around the second week of September. Active cases are down to 66,887 from a high of a little over 184,000 at the height of this current surge due to the Delta variant. In the National Capital Region (NCR), the 7-day moving average has dipped below 1,000 cases for the first time since late July.

The critical question now is this — can we break the overall pattern of the coronavirus pandemic which begins with a surge in new infections followed by decline and to be followed by another surge? Can we prevent another surge that will allow us to sustain the reopening of more economic activities and the resumption of a number of social activities especially in Metro Manila and other urban centers?

According to Johns Hopkins University, several factors are important to consider in preventing another surge: the extent of vaccination rate in the population, “the effectiveness of vaccines over time, human behavior, infection prevention policies, changes to the coronavirus itself, and the number of people who are vulnerable because they have not developed some immunity, whether from natural infection or through vaccination” (See https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/coronavirus/first-and-second-).

The good news is that our vaccine supply has increased the past few weeks. According to officials of the government’s Covid-19 task force, total vaccines delivered to the country as of October 22 has reached more than 94 million with 39,509,885 million doses ready and available. Currently, a little over 22% of the country’s population have been fully vaccinated. The bad news is that logistical issues seem to be slowing down the vaccination program of the government. Add to this the worrying data from the World Health Organization that some 3.4 million senior citizens have not received their COVID-19 jabs.

Government needs to focus on making sure that we have an excess of supply of the vaccines and that these jabs would be delivered efficiently to various parts of the country. It is good that government has already allowed the vaccination of young Filipinos aged 12 to 17. Now, it is time for government to consider offering booster shots to Filipinos, especially those who received vaccines which according to studies might wane in efficacy over time. Remember, if immunity wanes at around the 6th month, those of our kababayans who got inoculated last March might have their immunity compromised by now.

Government has also relaxed lockdown restrictions due to the decrease in daily infections. This is good for the economy but we need to make sure that we will never go back to hard lockdowns again. We can do this by ensuring that our people continue to observe strict health protocols. I am all in favor of, for instance, allowing people to go to beaches again. Psychologically and emotionally, the experience of being able to walk on sand, take in the ocean breeze and swim in the waters must be cathartic considering that we have been essentially locked up for more than a year. Or allowing the opening of cinemas again. Can you still remember the last movie you saw inside a cinema?

But we need to be serious about health protocols—impose mask mandates, make sure people follow social distancing guidelines, and encourage people to sanitize their hands frequently. We need to make our people see the bigger picture. We cannot enjoy these “freedoms” now only to go back to stricter lockdown later because our irresponsible behavior has caused another surge. More importantly, let us make sure we achieve our vaccination target of 50% by the end of the year and 70% before the May 2020 elections. Let us also use this downtrend to strengthen our testing and contact tracing capabilities.

I do not know if the economy can withstand another hard lockdown. I am thinking of micro and small business which do not have the resources to survive the rollercoaster ride of being forced to close, and then being allowed to reopen again, and again, and again. I am optimistic, of course, but why allow our people to go through the horrible experience of a surge and lockdown again when we, by our own actions, can prevent it?